Great Egret

Great Egret

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Timberdoodle, Boogie-woogie aphid, etc.

It looks like spring is becoming more apparent. I noticed this sign on my travels in Chatham-Kent over the last few days. Thank-you to all who took it to heart and stopped praying for snow :-).

A visit to Rondeau was on the agenda yesterday, March 26. The snow is definitely diminishing, and the ground beneath the bird feeders was almost totally devoid of the white stuff, showing the winter's accumulation of seed hulls. The feeder was reasonably busy, with the usual mix of American Tree Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees and others. Song Sparrows are becoming more abundant throughout the park, with several seen picking through the accumulated seed litter.


The usual Eastern Towhee was busily picking through the seed as well. Even though there are more of these critters in the park these days, this one was behaving very similarly to the one present all winter, including following the same pattern around the feeder, so I presume it is the same bird.

American Robins are everywhere now. I must have seen about 100 over the course of the day, usually in groups on lawns, but some even in the woodlands of the park. Males arrive first, and are distinguishable by their darker heads. I only saw males today.

One of the highlights of the day was finding an American Woodcock, sometimes known as the Timberdoodle. They typically show up in early March. I glimpsed it out of the corner of my eye while I was driving slowly along one of the roads, so after parking nearby, I got out and carefully approached it. It did not seem to care that I was there, even though I was aiming my telephoto lens at it! American Woodcocks are members of the shorebird family, although they are somewhat atypical; they spend most of their life in upland areas rather than wetlands, grasslands or along shorelines as most shorebirds do. They can be found in wet woods, where probing into the soft earth with their very long bills is a little easier.

They are quite cryptic, relying on their camouflage to make them difficult to see, especially from a distance and if they are immobile. In fact while I was trying to photograph this bird as it wandered through the underbrush, it was very difficult to get a clear shot.

I watched this bird for awhile, and found its feeding behaviour curious. The long beak is well adapted to probing in the earth; the tip of it is flexible so that it can open and grasp an invertebrate critter, including worms. Both the beak and tongue are raspy, enabling the bird to grip slippery critters.

On several occasions I noticed this bird stick its beak into the ground to more than half the length. It remained completely motionless like that for several seconds before withdrawing it.

I was surprised how often the bird came up with a wriggling worm! The sandy ground with the layer of leaf litter must have thawed out earlier than I expected. If you look closely at this next image, you might be able to see the worm, although by the time I took this photo, the bird had managed to manipulate it lengthwise to make it easier to swallow.

The woods are still fairly quiet. Aside from the occasional woodpecker pecking, I did notice some lumpy black things on branches of American Beech trees. They are uncommon but when you find one lumpy black thing you likely will find several on the same tree. This is called Sooty Mould.

It is present due to the Boogie-woogie Aphid. Let me explain......

During the late summer, if you are walking through a beech/maple forest, you might come across branches of American Beech trees that have sections looking like they are covered with snow, which is absurd because it is during the heat of summer. If you look closely at the real thing, you should be able to see parts of it waving around. These are long filaments at the back end of the little white Beech Blight Aphid. If you bump into the branch, all the aphids will start wiggling their hind ends, causing the filaments to wave vigorously, presumably to scare off the offending intruder. But that is where its Boogie-woogie handle comes from.

Aphids suck the juices out of the branches, but not normally enough to cause serious damage to the tree, although sometimes if they are too abundant, some branches can die. After feeding on the juices, the aphids excrete a substance called honeydew, which accumulates below the colony of aphids, ending up either on the ground or on other branches. It is this accumulation of honeydew which in turn supports the establishment of the fungus, known as Sooty Mould.

Another highlight was seeing Eastern least three of them, all along Lakeshore Road. It was out of the wind, and presumably there were a few more insects available for this predominantly insect eater. But they did not want to cooperate for the camera, so I just admired them from a greater distance.

After leaving Rondeau, I took a side trip to Erieau. As the weather warms up, the ice will recede even more, making photographing waterfowl more difficult so I wanted to give it another try. As expected, there was lots of diversity and numbers, although nothing I hadn't seen before. But some readily swam or flew by the vehicle, so I had to capture a few more shots for the files. I don't really know why I need more photos of Redhead, Canvasback and others.......

The following one shows a side by side comparison of a female Redhead trailing a male Canvasback. The bill and head profile are useful characteristics to separate the two. Canvasbacks have a long, dark bill and a gradually sloping forehead, quite different from the shorter, lighter bill of the Redhead with its higher, steeper forehead.

Lesser Scaup are still present as well, although their numbers seem to be dropping.

Common Mergansers are actually common at the moment. I have posted photos of both the male and female recently, with the female showing a very noticeable crest.

I leave you with the photo below, showing a female in flight, and virtually crestless.

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